Ernesto Portillo Jr.
October 10, 2010
Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez was in his mid-teens, living in East Los
Angeles, when a massive anti-war demonstration in late-summer 1970
On Aug. 29, as police fired tear gas at the largely Chicano
protesters demonstrating against the Vietnam War, a Los Angeles
sheriff's deputy killed a single man.
Rubén Salazar, a long-time journalist respected for his on-the-spot
reporting of LA's Latino community and the growing tension between
barrio residents and police, was killed. The deputy entered a cafe
where Salazar was taking a break from covering the Chicano War
Moratorium, and fired a torpedo-shaped, tear-gas missile at Salazar,
a columnist for the Los Angeles Times newspaper and news director for KMEX-TV.
In the rarest of events - the killing of an American journalist on
American soil - Salazar's death remains a wound in Rodriguez's
conscience and that of many people inside and outside Los Angeles.
"That day it became personal," said Rodriguez, an assistant professor
in the University of Arizona's Mexican American Studies and Research Center.
Forty years after Salazar's death, there is an escalating cry for the
opening of thousands of pages of records involving the journalist,
who was 42 years old when he died.
While the Los Angeles County coroner ruled Salazar's death a
homicide, no charges were brought against the deputy.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office said it would not reveal the
investigation's contents, but in August it said it could conduct a
review of the records.
It matters because Salazar's death marked a critical turning point
for Mexican-Americans who were emerging from passive participation in
political and social life, not just in Los Angeles but across the Southwest.
Before his death, Salazar reportedly told close friends that LA
police and deputies were following him. In March 1970, the Los
Angeles police chief confronted Salazar, accusing him of false
reporting, reported the Times. Salazar, who was born in El Paso,
Texas, and whose sister lived in Tucson for many years, had reported
from Mexico City and Vietnam and was the first Latino columnist for the Times.
Rodriguez said Salazar's death lead to a subsequent coverup by
political and police authorities of a homicide of a journalist and a
public critic of the mistreatment of LA's Mexican-American community.
"For some it was the death of a movement, but for others it was the
beginning," said Rodriguez, who grew up blocks from where Salazar was killed.
While Rodriguez didn't realize it at the time, Salazar's death marked
the beginning of Rodriguez's professional path. He became a
journalist, and early in his career, in 1979, he said, he was beaten
by Los Angeles County deputies not far from where Salazar was killed.
Rodriguez subsequently filed two lawsuits against the county and prevailed.
In the years since his death, Salazar has evolved into an iconic
figure. The park near where he was killed is named after him, as are
libraries and schools. And his name and face are on a U.S. Postal
Service stamp issued in 2008.
Yet, his death, the circumstances and secrecy, gnaw at history. It
may have happened in Los Angeles, but the pain rippled across the
country and still does.
People, even those who did not know Salazar like Rodriguez, want to
know the truth about Salazar's death.
"Justice is equated with truth," Rodriguez said. "We have never known
Ernesto Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. He can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4187.